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AFTER NEARLY DYING IN A MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT, ELÁN FRONTMAN JOŽO RÁŽ IS LEADING SLOVAKIA'S MOST POPULAR BAND ON A WORLD TOUR.

Rejuvenated legend Elán continues sold-out comeback tour

In summer 1999 a motorcycle accident almost cost Slovak rock star Jožo Ráž his life. A German driver crashed into the bassist/singer's Yamaha motorcycle in Bratislava's centre, breaking Ráž's nose, wrist and right leg and causing him serious head injuries.
For days worried fans hung on scant television and radio reports. First Ráž was at death's door. Then word emerged he would live, but be severely mentally and physically disabled. Finally it transpired that a full recovery was expected, although it was doubtful that he'd ever play music again.
Fan letters flooded Ráž's mailbox, and his band Elán's newest hit, "Voda, čo ma drží nad vodou", (Water that holds me above water) ran non-stop on radio stations.


Rock group Elán are in the midst of an amazing comeback tour.
photo: Michal Čimera

In summer 1999 a motorcycle accident almost cost Slovak rock star Jožo Ráž his life. A German driver crashed into the bassist/singer's Yamaha motorcycle in Bratislava's centre, breaking Ráž's nose, wrist and right leg and causing him serious head injuries.

For days worried fans hung on scant television and radio reports. First Ráž was at death's door. Then word emerged he would live, but be severely mentally and physically disabled. Finally it transpired that a full recovery was expected, although it was doubtful that he'd ever play music again.

Fan letters flooded Ráž's mailbox, and his band Elán's newest hit, "Voda, čo ma drží nad vodou", (Water that holds me above water) ran non-stop on radio stations.

Two years later, Ráž and his five bandmates - all well into their forties - are in the midst of a full-speed comeback. They announced plans for a new album, their 20th, this summer then embarked on a 27-show world tour, their largest ever, and one of the largest ever by a Czech or Slovak band.

So far they've sold out shows in London, New York, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, Sydney and throughout the Czech Republic. They will bring the tour to Slovakia later this week (see box below for details). Fans say that Ráž, whose face still bears scars, is slightly less energetic on stage, and may have lost some vocal range, but is still capable of rocking an audience.

"Obviously, people will divide Elán's history into before and after the accident," said the band's guitarist, Jano Baláž. "But we don't see it that way. I never thought we were through, and so it's logical to continue where we left off. We were only waiting until Jožo was ready."

Elán's invigorating brand of progressive rock and catchy lyrics about everyday issues made them Slovakia's most popular 1980s rock band. But even as their older music took on nostalgic charm during the 1990s, the group continued churning out hits. Their 1997 Odpusť mi láska (Forgive me, my love) is still one of Slovak radio's most played songs.

In addition to millions in album sales and a seemingly never-ending string of number ones, Elán has notched another achievement - it is perhaps the only Slovak rock band with such universal appeal among Czechoslovak expatriates that its concerts sell out even in foreign countries.

"All our concerts on this tour have been beautiful," said Vašo Patejdl, the band's keyboardist. "They were all sold out. We we're amazed that the crowds contained so many young people."

Their repertoire for the tour includes hundreds of well-known hits, such as two high school prom classics, "Stužková" (the Prom) and "Nie sme zlí" (We are not bad).

Elán's story began in 1970, when five Bratislava 15-year-olds performed at a junior high dance with second-hand guitars and a makeshift amplifier. The concert was a fiasco, the band remembers, and they pledged afterward not to perform again without professional instruments.

The group's break came in 1976, when they played their first single "Semafor" (Traffic Light) on Slovak TV. They went on to release nearly a CD a year, and in some years performed 200 concerts.

Between 1984-1986 they won three consecutive Zlatý slávik, the 'Czechoslovak Grammy'. Their 1986 CD "Detektívka" (Detective Story) launched Elán-mania throughout Czechoslovakia, selling 600,000 copies, a new record.

"Elán is like [Slovak popular music's] Mozart," said Ľubica Halová, a music teacher and fan. "Their songs never get old. Last summer I took my classical vocal choir to Montenegro, and we had only one cassette on the bus - Elán."

"I think they will go down as Slovak musical legends," she added. "My children immediately took to Elán, and my grandchildren are also becoming fans."

Shortly after his accident, Ráž told reporters: "Music is the last thing I want to do now". Today he and Elán are back on their feet, with no end in sight. "Elán is at its peak right now," he said.

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